Runner Profile:  Shileen O’Kane

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One of the first people I was introduced to whenever I decided to try Mountain Running was Shileen O’Kane, a lady I consider to be one of the country’s top mountain runners.  Shileen is a very talented, unassuming and down to earth lady, who actually does not realise how good she is.  The Lagan Valley AC athlete has represented Northern Ireland many times and can be found racing over mountains, trails, cross country and roads; John Glover has even got her to train on the track! Shileen is really an all-terrain lady and thus, a perfect ‘Runner Profile’.

Full Name:   Shileen O’Kane
Current Category:  Female Vet40
Associated Club:  Lagan Valley AC
Personal Bests:   5k – 19:33, 5 miles – 31:34 10k – 39:16, Half Marathon – 1:33:50

You spend a lot of time in the mountains, so we understand PBs aren’t always applicable.  Tell us your PB’s or your best times for your three favourite mountain/trail races?  My three favourite mountain races include some of Northern Ireland’s classic fell races, they are:

Slieve Donard (5.5 miles – 840m ascending – PB 1:08:15):
This race starts/finishes in the centre of Newcastle (County Down) and your allowed to choose your route to the summit and back, as long as you pass the check-point at the top. I enjoy it as it is Northern Ireland’s highest mountain and it is where I do most of my training.  In the race, the route I choose is the almost vertical climb/descent of the ‘Black Stairs’ which suits me more than the runnable Glenn River route.  The finish is at the end of the towns promenade, where the runners get great support from the local spectators.

Seven Sevens (19 miles – 8,700ft ascending – PB 5:03:16 – Ladies Course Record):
This race covers the seven highest peaks (700m+ of ascending) in the Mourne Mountains – Donard, Commedagh, Bearnagh, Meelbeg, Meelmore, Lamagan, Binnian. It is a very challenging event where both endurance and navigation (my weakness) are important.  Last year, with the help of Justin Maxwell and Phelim McAllister whom I followed in the mist, I managed to break the ladies record.  I am still hoping, in better conditions to go under 5 hours.  I enjoy the very steep climbs and descents although it is a relief to reach that final descent along the Glenn River.  This race is ultra-distance for me!

Flagstaff  to Carlingford (11miles – 3,000ft climb – PB 1:56:33 –Ladies Course Record):
This is a spectacular race which starts in the North and finishes in the South, following the ridge of the Cooley Mountains before descending into the pretty village of Carlingford.  Like all long mountain races, weather conditions and route choice are everything and greatly affect times.  Last year, in perfect conditions and with good route choice (this time with the help of Pete Grant) I managed to break the ladies record.  The race is superbly organised by Armagh AC and Brian Vallely who has in the past provided post-race musical entertainment.

When did you start running?  I started to run/jog during my teacher training, probably to de-stress! When doing my teaching practice in B.R.A I met Ann Terek (former N Ireland XC runner) and she asked me to be part of the school relay team in the Belfast Marathon.  I loved the atmosphere at the event.  Ann then brought me along to a XC race in Lurgan Park where, despite being at the very back of the field, I enjoyed the experience of competing (fortunately I have improved since then).  Then in 1999 I turned up at a fell race, discovered the mountains and the rest is history!

Why do you run?  I love running, particularly the endorphin high that it gives.  For me, the mountains are escapism where I can experience that feeling of freedom and solitude.  In competition I get a buzz from pushing myself to the limit on steep climbs followed by the adrenalin fuelled fast descents.  I have met some amazing people, some of my best friends through running.  I joined Lagan Valley AC a couple of years ago and train with a great group of people.  As a working mum of three young children, running provides me with my ‘me’ time.

What is your next race and what do you want from it?  I am currently doing the Hill and Dale mountain races every Thursday evening.  This is a unique eleven race series in various parts of the Mourne Mountains, organised by Newcastle AC.  This is my 13th year of total addiction! I have won the series a few times but it has become more and more competitive with an increasing number of ladies participating.  This year, like every year, I just want to run my best, enjoy it and hopefully finish with no broken limbs! I am on the Northern Ireland ladies team going to Keswick on 25th May 2013, for the Home Countries International Fell Race (Uphill, 9.3km – 990m ascending).  We won a bronze medal last year, so it would be nice to come home with a medal again this year.

You race over various terrains (road, mountain, trail).  What would you consider to be your favourite event and why?  It has to be mountain, trail and road – in that order.   It is difficult to choose a favourite mountain race – I enjoy them all!  In addition to the ones that I have already mentioned, I love to go to Cushendall in August to do the Lurig Mountain Race which is part of the town’s annual festival.  There is a great atmosphere and crowds gather in the town centre to support the runners.  I would definitely recommend this race, even for the non-fell runners.  Another favourite is Ballymena AC’s Glenariff Mountain Race.  I don’t compete that often on the roads but I try to get along to the Seeley 10k as it is local and attracts a large quality field.

What is your favourite training session?  As I consider myself to be a mountain runner, it has to be a hard session over Slieve Donard and Commedagh. I’ve been doing this session for many years, even during the winter when deep snow reduces it to a hike! I run from Donard Forest to the summits close to race pace and recovery is the descents where I can enjoy the scenery and chat to my training partners – Anne Sandford and Hazel McLaughlin.  Every Monday evening I do a track session with Lagan Valley AC, led by our coach John Glover.  These are tough sessions but they have helped me to improve my speed on the flat.

What is your favourite pre and post-race food?  The night before a race I will always have pasta and start hydrating.  Pre-race breakfast is weetabix and sultanas.  If it is an evening race I will have toast/banana 3 hours beforehand.  I am often seen with a bar of Dairy Milk half an hour or so before the start – it’s just one of ‘my things’.  Post-race, I am happy to eat whatever is available.  It has become traditional that during the Hill and Dale Series, a chilled bottle of bubbly is packed into my bag as a post-race refreshment (to share of course!).

What are your greatest achievements?  My greatest achievements have been in mountain running. I am lucky that I have had the opportunity to compete for Northern Ireland in some stunning mountainous regions:

World Mountain Running Championships:  Malaysia 1999, Germany 2000, Italy 2001, Austria 2002, Turkey 2006
European Mountain Running Championships:  Madeira 2002
Commonwealth Fell Running Championships:  England 2009, Wales 2011
Home Countries International:  Scotland 2010 (we won a team bronze medal), England 2012 (we won a team bronze medal)

I have been the Northern Ireland Mountain Running ladies Champion in 2000, 2001, 2002, 2006, 2010, 2011, 2012.

What is your running ambition?  I just want to continue to enjoy running and remain injury free.  I am realistic that there may not be many more PB’s but I can still be competitive at Masters events and in August 2013, I will travel to the Czech Republic to run in the World Masters Mountain Running Championships.  As a runner I hope that I will inspire my own children to enjoy sport and possibly one day run with Lagan Valley AC!

What other sports do you like?   I enjoy watching most sports.  I used to cycle a bit but unfortunately I can’t find the time to fit it in anymore, unless I have a running injury!